Helping small business, renewable energy, education and health care are among the Democrats’ shared priorities
Six Democratic candidates for Congress fought it out before and audience of students and Hudson Valley voters on the SUNY New Paltz campus Wednesday to determine who will challenge Republican John Faso for the 19th Congressional District seat.
An auditorium in the college’s Lecture Center was filled with local residents and students who shared a vocal disdain for the former assemblyman and Kinderhook native John Faso.
The potential Democratic challengers — Jeff Beals, Antonio Delgado, Brian Flynn, Gareth Rhodes, David Clegg and Pat Ryan — took their places at the forum, which was hosted by The New Paltz Oracle, SUNY New Paltz College Democrats, Move Forward New York, the Gardiner Democratic Committee, NYPIRG and the New Paltz Democratic Committee.
The event was moderated by Oracle Editor-in-Chief Melanie Zerah and New Paltz Deputy Town Supervisor Dan Torres, who fielded questions from the audience, opening a public discussion for the candidates.
The candidates were united in their shared goal of ousting Faso, the freshman congressman who has aligned himself closely with the goals of the Trump administration. While the six candidates will be fighting for the votes of their hometowns and the communities across the 11 counties in District 19, they are united in stopping the Republican agenda.
Jeff Beals, a former US-Iraq diplomat, CIA officer and the current apparent frontrunner, opened the debate by suggesting that NY-19 needs a candidate who aligns with the overall goals of the communities in it. After his service overseas, Beals returned to the Hudson Valley and became a teacher.
“I realized that we needed a candidate that could stand up as a working member of the community,” Beals said. “I’m the only candidate who … is working in a two-income family here in the district to raise a family on the meager wages that we are all facing in the Hudson Valley and the Catskills.”
Beals tried to separate himself from the other candidates, saying he raised the most grass roots campaign dollars, a claim that was shouted down by Schenectady-born Antonio Delgado. Delgado corrected his opponent, claiming his hard work and commitment are what led to his lead in the most collected campaign funding. The Harvard-graduate lawyer, currently residing in Rhinebeck with his family, touts his progressive ideas on health care and climate change by attempting to inspire those around him.
Job creation through renewables energy resources was a plan echoed by most of the six candidates.
Pat Ryan, the Kingston-born Iraq War Veteran and small business owner, shared his attachment to the local area and the scenic Hudson Valley. He said, if elected, he would push for increased environmental protection and renewable energy resources.
Another shared progressive value heard repeatedly Wednesday night is fixing the national health care system and getting the citizens, not only of District 19, but of the entire United States, insured through a revisionary Affordable Care Act.
But overall, the prospective candidates are hell bent on dethroning Faso and fighting against the president’s right-wing agenda.
“We need to resist what Donald Trump is doing, getting us into a nuclear war with his Twitter account, we need to resist, we need to replace John Faso and I believe I am the best candidate to do that,” said candidate Gareth Rhodes, a former aid to Governor Cuomo residing in Ulster County.
Rhodes founded his campaign on the trust that individual donations of $19 would give him the homegrown appeal of a people’s champ. The youngest of the bunch, Rhodes, put his Harvard Law degree on hold to run for office and to “repeal and replace John Faso.”
David Clegg, a Kingston lawyer, targeted the Trump administration as well, but for its ties to the fossil fuel industry. His campaign platform is tackling injustice and what he calls “greedy” corporations.
“Congress right now is controlled by the fossil fuel industry, if you look at Donald Trump’s cabinet, they are almost all connected to the fossil fuel industry,” Clegg said. “What we have right now is a government that is perpetuating the fossil fuel industry at the cost of not only all of us in America but all of us in the world, because to squeeze the last ounce of profit out of the fossil fuel industry, they are choking us.”
Brian Flynn spoke of his Greene County roots and government experience while making his case to the voters in the room. He discussed a proactive plan to move forward and build an economy dependent on small businesses. He said his local connections will help win over voters in order to get the congressional seat in the hands of Democrats.
“There is nothing more essential to self-worth than the dignity of work, than the pride that comes from a decent job and a decent paycheck, and we as the Democratic Party can once again be the party of the American worker. But it’s going to take bold, big ideas because we must create the America that works for all of us, not just the few,” Flynn said.
A student-submitted question on college tuition prompted Flynn to share his vision for loan forgiveness. He said that decreasing the price of college is a reasonable investment in the future of America and that the sheer number of students with debt calls for a government bailout, similar to the banks and car manufacturers.
Flynn’s ideas about education were paralleled by Delgado, who called education “the great equalizer.”
“Education is something that we have to get back to prioritizing in this country, I cannot underscore enough how critical it was in my household,” Delgado said, “It was framed as the great equalizer, the gateway to opportunity and I certainly seized every opportunity.”